Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Art of Mourning - Enamel Mourning Bands: Part II

As Guest Blogger Hayden Peters from The Art of Mourning outlined in Monday's post (which can be seen below this one), enamel mourning bands have a long and distinguished history dating back hundreds of years.  These mourning rings served as a wearable reminder; a way to commemorate lost loved ones.  


A simple, traditional black enamel mourning ring.  This one commemorates 'Ann Slade."

But for those of us who collect these pieces of history, they also present a bit of mystery.  Who was the person that wore this ring?  Who was the person that this ring commemorates?  What was their life like?  Researching these wearable bits of history is a bit like being a detective, a voyeur and a time-traveler all in one. 

In Hayden's recent post, he outlined the history of enamel mourning bands and the time period in which they were most popular - the 1800s.  Today, I'm going to focus on one specific ring that he mentioned in his post - The Boyes Ring. 


The Boyes Ring -  Commemorating the life  of "Lois Boyes."
This Georgian cobalt blue, green & white enamel mourning band has a long, well-loved history.  

Although the current history of this ring is not nearly as interesting as it's long-ago history, it is no less important.  This is the ring which started my enamel mourning band obsession.  What many may think of as morbid, is really quite the opposite to me.  It's a celebration, an honor.  It's a way to recognize those gone from our lives but who's memories are still very much alive in, and through, us.

The Boyes Ring is a perfect example of this sentiment.  This antique Georgian gold and enamel band has been well-loved over the years.  The enamel is almost rubbed away leaving only traces of the cobalt blue around the edges and a little bit of the white and green inlay left.  The inscription inside the ring reads, "Lois Boyes died 24 July, 1820 Aged 47".  When you think about it, that means that Lois was most likely born in 1773 - almost 241 years ago!  


The interior inscription reads, "Lois Boyes died 24 July, 1820 Aged 47."

The ring has no makers mark but the clear inscription gives us a little information from which to start our investigation into Lois' life.  Through a basic genealogy search, I was able to determine that Lois married a man by the name of Thomas Boyes.  I was unable to find out much information about Lois, or her family, prior to her marriage to Thomas but I did learn that they had two children together.  The eldest was a son named George Edward Brookes Boyes.  Shortly thereafter, Lois and Thomas had a daughter named Edith Mary Boyes.

As it turns out, Lois' husband, Thomas, died at the age of 50 only a few months prior to her own death.  Thomas, born in approximately 1770, was buried on March 12, 1820 at the Anglican church, St. Matthew Bethnal Green parish by J. Rooke.  Thomas was the 1,096 person to be buried at the parish.  The parish record even lists Thomas' abode as "Somerset Building."


A copy of the parish register in which the date that Thomas Boyes was buried, & by whom, is notated (highlighted in yellow).
Please click on the photo to see a larger version.

The church is still standing and has been "the mother church of Bethnal Green where there have been people saying their prayers and celebrating life for more than 250 years."  Lois and Thomas would have have been attending this church when it was still considered a brand new structure!  Can you imagine?!


St. Matthew Bethnal Green parish as it would have looked during Lois & Thomas Boyes' lifetime.

Bethnal Green is part of the Tower Hamlets Borough in what is London, England.  That means that when Lois and Thomas were attending St. Matthew's, they were living in the part of London considered the 'East End.'


A map of the Tower Hamlets Borough, East End - London.

This part of London is perhaps most famous for it's proximity to the Whitechapel Murders, a.k.a - the handiwork of serial killer, Jack the Ripper.  A 2012 newspaper article hypothesizes that the real Jack the Ripper was, in fact, a cart driver from Bethnal Green!

Although these murders began approximately 60 years after Lois died, it demonstrates how interwoven our collective histories truly are.  Lois and Thomas' children - George and Edith - would have, more than likely, been living in roughly the same area.  The stories of Jack the Ripper would have been present-day news to any children that George or Edith and their respective spouses may have had!


The Boyes Ring shows clear signs of wear - missing enamel, gouges in the hand-engraving & even a few nicks & scratches to the outer edges.  It is obvious that whomever wore this held Lois is a very special esteem.

After the birth of George and Edith, the Boyes Family trail runs cold. Imagination can run wild and I can wonder if George or Edith ever got married; what they did for a living; any children either of them may have had or if either survived the 1832 cholera outbreak of East London.  I can suspect that the little size 7 mourning ring which prompted this investigation was worn by Edith upon her mother's death and passed down to her daughter in honor of her grandmother before it somehow found it's way to me half a world away.  

It's these romantic musings which are precisely why jewelry holds such power over us as a species.  Dating back to the earliest signs of civilizations, jewelry has been a constant in our social constructs.  It has been a way to commemorate a life changing event from a birth or marriage to death.  It has been a way recognize someone for a job done well or for dedication to a company.  It is the way that we memorialize the timeline of our lives.


Another example an antique mourning ring.  This example is courtesy of the British Museum & dates to 1679.  It is engraved with the inscription, "In mem.I.W.Arch.Roch.obt 11 June 79" ('In memory of I.W. Archdeacon of Rochester, died on 11 June 1679'). John Lee Warner was the Archdeacon of Rochester from 1660 to 1679.

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